Clarke Schools’ Superintendent Steve Seid was looking to make some considerable changes at the elementary school when interviewing for new staff over the summer. Through dozens of candidates and numerous interviews for administrative and specialty positions, a team was being formed that Seid says he couldn’t be prouder of. Just two months into the school year, students, staff, parents and others have seen a truly positive shift.
Concerns about behavior at the elementary level have become a prominent conversation topic all around the country. At Clarke Schools, the focus is not only on how to respond to behavior calls but how to head them off and mitigate disruptive behavior. With the new leadership team, a number of new standards and protocols have been implemented, showing great potential toward making lasting changes throughout the district.
One of the first changes was to improve communication, documentation, and reaction time for all activities in the building. With a new radio and earpiece system in place administrators and staff can connect “in real time” anywhere on campus. When there is a behavior call from a classroom, personnel knows immediately where they’re needed and what actions will need to be taken. Each call is then documented, denoting which teacher is making the call, the student involved, the time of day, and a snapshot of the behavior that prompted the call. At the end of the month, all the data is entered into a spreadsheet and color-coded by grade to make it easier to track patterns. With this information administrators can take a proactive stance and know what plans work and which ones don’t.
“We were able to take hard data to the last School Board meeting and show them something they’d never seen before,” said Clarke Elementary Principal Jody Kerchal. “This way we can document what the team is doing, what obstacles we’re coming up against, and how we’re circumventing those obstacles, working to create a better learning environment for everyone in the building.”
In the first week of school, teachers took the time to make parental contact for every student. The belief that each child needs a united team around them for optimal success is one that is being taken to heart by all staff in the elementary. The initiative has paid off, too: fall conferences saw a first – 100% involvement, whether through attendance, phone calls, or home visits.
“Without parental involvement, the improvements we’re working toward won’t get very far,” said Lindsay Rains, Special Education Director. “Communication, consistency, and frequency are all components that need to carry from school to home to have a lasting effect on the students and create real change.”
Another new strategy already showing improvement is aligning classrooms across all grades to focus on similar learning targets and standards. Not only do grade level teams meet twice a week to make sure all classrooms are presenting the same material and setting the same weekly targets, but vertical teacher teams comprised of different grades also work together to create a thread of consistency while keeping the material grade-appropriate.
Clear expectations are set and posted at the beginning of each week so everyone including students, teachers, and parents know up front what will be taught. This allows students to follow along and feel prepared for each day while letting teachers truly focus on the target.
“We’re being intentional in building the sense of community within the elementary,” said Clarke Elementary Vice Principal Becca Kedley. “It’s a big school but the days of staff on one end of the building not knowing the names of staff on the other end are over.”
Perhaps the most impactful change, though, has been the flourishing of a new positive culture and team climate. By focusing on positivity in the classroom, contacting parents when students are doing good things, and showing appreciation to all staff, the entire school is working together.
“We have proactive strategies in place now to address issues before they become concerns, and we’ve turned the focus onto culture and climate for students and teachers, alike,” said Steve Seid. “Making initial contact with parents has made a huge impact that will carry through the whole year. Parents and teachers across all grade levels are working together, supporting each other, and really investing in doing what’s best for the kids. That’s what strong leadership in a positive-facing district should do.”
While still early in the school year, the new administration and staff are excited for the changes and direction they see the school moving in. Disruptions and behavior issues have had less of an impact and teachers are seeing engagement and excitement from their students as well as the parents. As the school year progresses, they’re expecting further progress in student achievements, grades and community activities.